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Lloyd's appoints Inga Beale as its first female CEO in its 325-year history

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When Inga Beale steps into her office at the iconic Lloyd's of London building in January, she will become the first female CEO in the market's 325-year history.

After what Lloyd's described as “an extensive global search,” conducted with the help of London-based executive search firm Odgers Berndtson, Lloyd's announced in December that Ms. Beale had been appointed to succeed Richard Ward, who announced his departure in July after eight years in the role.

Ms. Beale, 50, who formerly played for the London Wasps rugby union team, was described as “very professional,” “tough” and “nice” by sources who have worked with her during her 30-year insurance and reinsurance career.

Having begun her career in 1982 at London-based Prudential Assurance Co. Ltd., Ms. Beale has held a variety of roles at insurance and reinsurance companies in the United States and Europe (see box).

She most recently was group CEO of Guernsey-based Canopius Group Ltd., a Lloyd's managing agency that operates multiline syndicate 4444 and earlier this month was sold to Sompo Japan Insurance Inc., the principal subsidiary of Tokyo, Japan-based insurance group NKSJ Holdings Inc. — just days after the announcement of Ms. Beale's appointment at Lloyd's.

That appointment has been hailed by sources as a sign of greater diversity and inclusion in the insurance market generally and more specifically at Lloyd's, where women first were admitted to the underwriting room in 1972.

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In a statement, London-based financial consultancy deVere Group described the appointment of a female CEO of Lloyd's as a “landmark event.”

Ms. Beale, who was named one of Business Insurance's Women to Watch in 2006, has been a vocal supporter of diversity in the insurance industry.

One former colleague at Zurich Insurance Group Ltd., who asked not to be named, said Ms. Beale's appointment at Lloyd's “sends a real statement about how the industry is changing in a positive way” and is “great news.”

In a “60-second” interview with Lloyds.com this year, Ms. Beale said “the business is run differently if you have women around the decision-making table, and that is why it is important to have diversity, not just on the gender side.”

“Different people approach things differently and provide alternative views — diverse boards help companies make better decisions, which affect the bottom line.”

Other sources noted that Ms. Beale's status as an insurance industry insider — in contrast to Mr. Ward, who was recruited from the International Petroleum Exchange — rather than her gender is perhaps the most significant factor about her appointment to the Lloyd's CEO role.

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“The fact that she is an insurance person is important,” said David Gittings, CEO of the Lloyd's Market Association, which represents underwriters at Lloyd's. “My feeling was always that it would be preferable to find someone with insurance industry experience, even if that was not solely Lloyd's,” said Mr. Gittings, who encountered Ms. Beale during her time as group CEO of Canopius.

Ms. Beale will be able to “hit the ground running” on issues such as the Lloyd's 2025 modernization program, said Mr. Gittings, who noted that diversity if one of the major prongs of that plan.

Ms. Beale's experience as a chief executive, a chief underwriting officer and several other roles makes her a well-rounded candidate to be CEO of Lloyd's, he said. Ms. Beale's experience on the underwriting side will help her tackle some of the challenges facing the market, such as the influence of insurance-linked securities and other capital market instruments, broker-backed underwriting facilities and the continued soft market for many lines of insurance and reinsurance business, he added.

One longtime Lloyd's market observer noted that in many ways, the CEO role at Lloyd's is more akin to that of a chief operating officer at other companies, while the chairman of Lloyd's fills more of a figurehead role.

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The CEO of Lloyd's job is about “nuts and bolts,” he said, and issues such as claims processing.

Ms. Beale's insurance industry experience will count in her favor, he said, and the fact that Canopius recently was sold for “a lot of money” suggests that she was successful in her previous position.

Sompo paid £594 million ($968.1 million) for Canopius. Ms. Beale also prepared Converium for its sale to SCOR S.E. in 2007.